The first challenge when recounting a stay at Ellerman House is working out exactly what Ellerman House is, exactly. From the street, it looks like it might be a rather nice house, and nothing more. Slip through the simple, understated entrance, and the debate begins. Is it the discreet boutique hotel that’s lured Oprah, the Clintons and an infestation of Kardashians to stay when in the Cape?
Is it a small but dazzlingly curated gallery, every spare inch of wall used to celebrate South African art? Is it a restaurant, now presided over by one of the country’s most acclaimed chefs? Is it the finest wine cellar in the country? In truth, it’s all of the above, with postcard views down to Bantry Bay thrown in for good measure.
The hotel hauls in awards, with the vast palatial villas headlining the accommodation options. And the food has hit a new level: meals were always good, but the arrival of FYN’s Peter Tempelhof as culinary director has added a new dimension to Ellerman’s kitchen. But my personal high point of Ellerman House is its extraordinary cellar. It’s headed by the gallery, a striking showcase of design and flair that incorporates Brian Steinhobel’s giant corkscrew, an ingenious (and very large) carbon fibre wine rack that holds 1 500 bottles on its own; Angus Taylor’s bar area, including a wall that incorporates soil from 100 different South African wine farms; a brandy wall adorned with decanters filled with assorted vintages and their different hues; and 13 huge stone steps spiralling down into a cellar I’d be happy to live in.
In total, there are 14 000-odd bottles (a few less than when I arrived), with plentiful older vintages, and curiosities and rarities amongst the bigger and more familiar names. The champagne cellar is laden with Dom Perignon (there’s a dinner experience with Dom Perignon available in the restaurant, if you’ve got a new Premier League contract to celebrate).
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A considerable selection of the slightly overwhelming expanse of wine on offer is available by the glass. To complete Ellerman’s wine offering is the man who oversees it all: a smiling South American named Manny, who has embraced South African wine and its culture, and proudly presides over a wine gallery that’s in constant flux, bottles moving in and out every day. He delights in introducing guests to new and unexpected wine experiences, and handles the not inconsiderable challenge of managing such a vast wine reserve.
What I’m drinking this week: Having post-chenin blanc day withdrawal symptoms? Then don’t withdraw… I’m always up for converting non-chenin drinkers, and had another opportunity last week, when I ordered a bottle for two very sceptical guests. They conceded pretty quickly, and not surprisingly: the Craven Karibb chenin from Stellenbosch is (another) outstanding example of a crisp, elegant South African chenin that opens up after a few minutes to offer a full, smooth wine with a lovely finish. Chenin blanc for the win, again.
Want to see what else Dan Nicholl has been drinking? Watch his latest episode of Dan Really Likes Wine!